Note: The following articles in this series may have taken place during real-world events… or it may have just been a training exercise… either way, no methods, sources or secrets were or will be divulged. This is all generic stuff that you can read in any “spy” novel—so take a puff of your inhaler and calm down, OPSEC Nazi.
As soon as I stepped out of the airport I took a deep (but silent) breath, and told myself that it was inevitable, that at some point my time was going to come. I had heard the stories during training and in the office; I had read the books before boarding. If not now, it might be in an hour, a week—maybe my next time out. I had managed to make it the entire flight without anyone asking any weird questions (though I do recall a woman asking if I was a pro-baseball player), and I even made it through the airport without having someone tap me on the shoulder and say, “Could you please come with me, sir?” I had previously had conversations with senior officers who had done this hundreds of times, and there seemed to be one overriding theme—not everyone survives it, but in this business everyone goes through it. It was a simple question, but to anyone in the intelligence business, “Why are you here?” can lead to a resounding success—or a world of hurt.
I grabbed a taxi and headed to my hotel. I had my cover story down pat—I was pretty sure—so checking in wasn’t a problem. We had countless periods of instruction on the myriad of things I hoped to accomplish during this week, including things that others folks (I almost said “normal” people, but by this time I had realized that my colleagues and I were probably the abnormal ones) took for granted. Things like, oh, say driving to work. The vast majority of the population gets up, showers, gets dressed and (provided that they have a job to go) takes off. Not me, and not anyone who has lived and worked undercover. Nope, for us (and at the present time, this guy) when the alarm rang, our day started out like anyone else, but once we got into our vehicles (to include one of those 3-wheeled cruiser bike-thingies that this guy rode to headquarters every day—yeah, he was a sweaty mess when he walked in) that all changed.
Back at home we drove to work, but that drive involved checking our rear and side-view mirrors for that same vehicle that had followed us through more than three turns, or cars that had pulled into the space a few cars down at the mini-mart you stopped at to get your morning coffee. While we are in the store, we took note of anyone looking at us too hard or seemed too eager to leave when we left. We made sure that when we were within a certain distance of whatever building we were working in that day, that we were “clean,” and that we had not been followed to that great big behemoth of a structure that is our headquarters (yes, I know that you can Google it and find out all kinds of info about the place, but uh-uh—I am not saying where it is.)
To be honest, at that point in our careers, anyone following us could have knocked on our window at a red light and asked us to slow down because we were going too fast for them to follow and we wouldn’t have put two and two together. Anyway, once in the lot, we left our phones in our cars and we entered the building. We sat at our desks and fired up our computers, careful not to let anyone see our “strong” passwords. If we had to get up to use the can, we made sure to lock our computer. For us newbies, after a few weeks we were counterintelligence gurus—yeah, OK.
But at that moment, I felt like I was wearing one of those “The End Is Near” placards, except mine read: “I am a spy, and I am here to do spy sh—” I had been to lectures on the things I was about to do, had table-topped it (crawled), rehearsed it with instructors and ran exercises, to include a mock airport in a foreign country where we were pulled into “secondary” and grilled on the cover story and legend that we had built after hours of instruction (walk).
But now it was time to run. Time to fly, little spy baby birdy. I made it to my room and locked the door behind me as I was taught (and did even before training). I had some assignments that I needed to get started on, and before I even took a quick shower I took care of the first one. I sent a quick “Hey mom, I made it to sleep away camp OK” message back to the powers that be, double checked that my door was in fact locked, took a mental picture of the room and where my things had been placed, then hopped in the shower.
When I was all finished, I stepped out of the bathroom and stopped. I took a look around—recalling the room as I had left it—on the off-chance that someone had come into the room and either taken something or worse: left something.
My present environment had been briefed as “semi to non-permissive,” meaning that the host nation was not exactly hip to our gallivanting around doing spy stuff and are actively looking for any such activity. While no one is getting killed if they are caught, it was within their capability to leave behind a camera or listening device so that they have evidence when they snag you meeting that ministry official or military leader.
Satisfied that all was in place (at least to my novice eyes), I settled down to get started on my main objective. I pulled out my laptop, fired it up and pulled up a tourist map of the city. Most importantly, I pulled out the hotels room service menu—this brotha was getting hungry.
To be continued…
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press